Yolanda Wisher is the 2016-2017 Poet Laureate of the City of Philadelphia. Wisher is the author of Monk Eats an Afro and the co-editor of Peace is a Haiku Song. Her work has appeared in Ploughshares, Fence, Chain, MELUS, and GOOD Magazine and the anthologies Gathering Ground and The Ringing Ear. Wisher is a 2016 Hedgebrook Writer-in-Residence, 2015 Pew Fellow, Center for Performance and Civic Practice Catalyst Initiative grantee (2015), Leeway Art & Change Award recipient (2008), and the inaugural Montgomery County Pennsylvania Poet Laureate (1999). She holds an M.A in English/Creative Writing-Poetry from Temple University and a B.A. in English/Black Studies from Lafayette College. Wisher founded and directed the Germantown Poetry Festival (2006-2010) and served as Director of Art Education for the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program (2010-2015). She currently works as Chief Rhapsodist of Wherewithal for the U.S. Department of Arts and Culture.
THE POET LAUREATE READS THE COMMENTS SECTION
Wow, what an honor. I assumed she was a nurse or a doctor, maybe
A fire fighter or an ambulance crew, maybe a police officer. But no,
She writes poetry. . .Why are all these “poet laureates” jungle bunnies?
Not one dime earned. Activism in the form of hate is more apropos.
She might get shot by one of the students she is reading poetry to,
A certain demographic in the form of oppressor is a running theme.
Liberals love making appointments and decisions that have zero
Tangible impact on the state of the city.
What on earth does a poet have to do with contributing to society?
How will a poet laureate help Philadelphia pull itself out of deep poverty
Or lower the percentage of public school dropouts? Let’s be honest,
Being the poet laureate of Philadelphia is as prestigious as being
The Director of Water Purification in the Ganges. Or the Flint River.
But, she is the right hue, and I’ve seen better poetry on bathroom stalls.
you go fishin for strangers.
you want to write something
full of alchemy, that’ll
make people sit up in their
chakras & go “hmmmm.”
make somebody remember you
for ages when you leave the room.
not fight your way through
the crowd but mingle &
descend like tar residue
from the ceiling.
you want to leave a trace
of yourself on the cotton
of people. you want the band
to know your name, the mic
to know your mist, the poem
to pull your strings & make
you dance. the right outfit
for the right words. a zone.
can you make a match
strike behind their eyes?
can you make the walls wail?
bring the ailin from
their beds? like a
brother all in white,
like a big woman
spittin up rats
and washboards on
with a boll weevil’s song—
you bring the belt
that lashes the back
of everyone’s soul.
and when you finish
everybody feel weary
everybody go home
think about love
or make it.
We broke the doll’s spell in the waters of the Wissahickon. Like Zora with her
hoodoo doctor in Haiti. Cast her vice to the vengeful ghosts of catfish. Years
later, I dream a lion prowling around Devil’s Pool. Remember when we put the
evildoers names on rocks left on the back porch to bleed? My mother’s
roommate in college slept with her arms crossing her chest. Forbidden to play
with Ouija boards, tarot cards were a conspiracy to draw us to the dark side from
which there was no return. Little girl, I chased Wonderbread crumbs scattered
through Ambler forests in track spikes, the moon like a giant stopwatch. An
orchid with a shadowy past, tubers with a thirst for the unnatural, this town of
breeding hermits. The Indian in us not just a boast but a loophole, son. The
babyface poets wear crystals like movie props, talk of crowns, rocking standard
military issue. Sisters duck into alcoves to escape the rain but no caves named
for dusky Monas. A name written obsessively and buried, a fuck behind an oak, a
gesture in the mirror in elegant blasphemy opens the gate, awakens the beast,
shifts the air. Words are brackish, young lady; one day the devil will be listening
intently, collecting each grain of salt for your undoing. Take this pamphlet. Press
its pulp with the paper mill of your thighs. Meet Poe and the Tolerater for an
uppity ménage in the woods, handmade paper like a spliff for your pens. Buried
beneath every church along the Avenue are Ham’s bones, whitewashed and
unfree. She walks with a gold phallus, the kite of her body gets caught in the